Saturday, December 31, 2005

Polysyllabic, Polyphonic Spree

For Christmas, I received a copy of Nick Hornby's Polysyllabic Spree. Hornby has been one of my favorite writers since I read his superb Fever Pitch, the auto-biographical tale of his obsession with Arsenal Football Club and trying to balance that obsession with his personal life as he grew from a lad to a responsible adult (How can you love one woman when you are obsessed with 11 men? the book asks). Even if you've never read Hornby, you've probably seen a movie based on one of his books -- both High Fidelity and About a Boy are based on wonderful Hornby works. I'd also recommend the dark, but insanely funny A Long Way Down which is Hornby's latest fiction offer. (The only Hornby novel I didn't care for was How to Be just didn't strike a chord with me.)

Polysyllabic Spree is a collection of essays that Hornby wrote for the Believer Magazine about the authors' continuous struggle to read all the books he buys each month. Hornby laments that when he dies, he'll ask St. Peter to judge him on the books he's bought, rather than the one's he's managed to read.

I can totally empathize with the author as I often find the idea or concept of a particular book a lot more interesting than the actual reading of said book. My bookshelves are littered with books that I've picked up or asked for on my wish list, but never managed to get through. Ironically, I would say that my music collection is similarly stocked.

Therefore, in the spirit of New Year's Resolutions, and inspired by Nick Hornby's book, I hereby resolve to read 50 books and listen intently to 50 albums during 2006...and I plan to do it without purchasing a single new book or record. I'll rely on the Wake County Library if I realy must read anything recently published and tap the hundreds of dollars credit that Liz has accrued at Mr. Mike's Used Books.

I'd go for 52...or a book/album per week...but there's no way that I'll be able to tear myself away from the TV during the first two weeks of the World Cup come mid-June. I might as well not set myself up to fail!

So I'll be starting with Songbook, another book by Nick Hornby, which is a collection of essays by the author on his favorite songs. (I really can relate to Hornby's obsessions!) It seems like the perfect starter for this book/music project. And to keep the theme well at hand, the first album will be The Polyphonic Spree's The Beginning Stages of... CD.

I'll report my progress here so check back from time-to-time to see how long it takes me to break the resolution...and perhaps get a book or album suggestion in the process.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas 2005

We hope all our friends and family are having as fun-filled Christmas as we are having!

Last night Molly spread reindeer food on the lawn while Max and Liz hung the stockings in hopes that when we woke up this morning Santa would have paid us a visit.

Santa brought Molly a doll playset that included a port-a-crib, swing, high chair, and a stroller as well as her first bicycle. Max got a Sonic the Hedgehog playstation game, rollerblades, Hungry-Hungry Hippos and a Play-Doh Doggie Doctor set.

Liz got a diamond anniversary band for Christmas and our 10th wedding anniversary. Jarrett got a CD box set of every song Johnny Cash recorded for Sam Phillips at Sun Records and a new luggage set.

We all got a family membership to the Morrisville Aquatics & Fitness center. Hopefully the kids can learn to swim during the winter at their indoor pool so they'll be ready for GrandMott's pool come this summer!

Be sure to click on the links above for a few pictures from our Christmas festivities

Friday, December 23, 2005

Bore of the Worlds

It's not often that Liz and I get to sit down and watch a full-length sci-fi movie anymore, but last night after the kids were in bed we set down with great anticipation to watch Steven Spielberg's take on the War of the Worlds. With the original H.G. Wells novel, the brilliant radio adaption by Orson Welles that brought the nation to a state of mass hysteria in 1938, and the 1953 film all firmly entrenched in the pantheon of sci-fi classics we were eagerly anticipating what the guy that brought us Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. might do with the story.

It started well enough with a tremendous electrical storm bringing the Martians to earth and killing all electrical devices (a la an electromagnetic pulse). They went through great pains to demonstrate how the lights were out, the TV didn't work, the wireless phone was dead, and even the cars in the street had quit working. Yet, 5 minutes later when the Tripods are wreaking mass destruction on the whole of New Jersey (like you could really tell the difference), there in the street, is a guy filming the whole thing with his camcorder! As he gets scared and turns to run, he drops his camcorder and we get a close-up on the LCD where we can see people being vaporized by the Martians laser rays. So this camcorder is the only electronic device working in the entire Tri-State area? But wait, there's Tom Cruise grabs his kids, he manages to steal the ONLY working car in New Jersey and the masses of people lining the street in despair don't even try to stop him from getting the hell out of Dodge.

Later in the movie, Tom Cruise foils a Martian by using a mirror to confuse it. So let me get this straight...they buried death machines on our planet hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago, they've gone undetected by Earth's scientists for hundreds of years, they orchestrate a massive worldwide attack on earth dealing death and destruction in their wake, BUT...they haven't invented mirrors yet on Mars. Give me a break!

I know in sci-fi, sometime you have to suspend disbelief...and I was ready and prepared to believe that there were Martian death machines buried in New Jersey, but don't treat the viewers like idiots. The camcorder served no purpose in the story and it's stupid filmmaking like that they made me want to shut the DVD off right then.

I managed to stick with it and gripe about the rest of the film along the way. There are some neat effects in the movie and a couple of tense moments but this movie just fell flat for me. Thank goodness there was an unexpected appearance by Tim Robbins (one of my favorite actors) that at least kept me interested in the second half of the film. The one shining bit of redemption is that Dakota Fanning, who I first saw in the mini-series "Taken", does a wonderful turn as a terrified young girl. I hate to say it, but she probably put in the best performance in this movie.

I think my expectations were a bit high because just a few days earlier I had seen a brilliant sci-fi film, Omar Naim's The Final Cut starring Robin Williams and Mira Sorvino. Who would have thought that a marriage between Mork and Romy would produce such a great film!

In the film, Robin Williams plays a "cutter", a man whose job is to splice together the memories recorded by cebral impants after someone dies. The cutters produce the final recorded history of a person's life. Alone at the editing machine, Williams must make decisions about whether to reveal the evil and vile things that people did, or leave their families with a glowing, but perhaps artificial, rendition of the story of their loved one's life.

It's hard to imagine the comic Williams in such a dark and tortured role, but he was brilliant in One Hour Photo and I thought he was excellent again here. His talent as an actor goes well beyond what we'll see in the upcoming Mrs. Doubtfire 2.

The Final Cut harkens back the headier days of sci-fi movies like Soylent Green, Logan's Run, Planet of the Apes, and the original War of the Worlds, where the viewer is challenged with ethical and moral dilemmas about everyday life while the filmmakers spin a tale about a fantastic universe. There are no big explosions or special effects here, but they would have been superfluous anyway as Naim leaves his viewer with a well-crafted, suspensful thriller without the need to fill the screen with booms or bangs.

It's good to know that while some of the more brilliant sci-fi directors seem to have lost their way, there are new up-and-coming filmmakers ready to pick up the torch and carry on the classic sci-fi genre.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Starlite, Star Bright

When was the last time you saw a movie at a Drive-In Theater? Did you even know that there are still drive-ins operating these days? Better yet, some dark drive-ins are re-opening! And no, they're not showing porn! With new extra-bright projection systems and super clear FM radio sound broadcast through your car's radio, the Drive-In experience isn't quite like that scene from Grease anymore (but's its really not that different either).

After Max was born, Liz and I had to drastically cut back on the number of movies we went to the cinema to see. Eventually, when we moved from Austin to Cary, we discovered the drive-in as a great alternative. The kids can play, talk continuously, go to sleep, whatever...and they don't disturb anyone else. We can take our own food and save a bit of cash and if we get there early enough, the kids can play on the playground and wear themselves out before the movie starts.

There are certain movies that we've seen at the drive-in that were just perfect for that setting (Spider-Man, The Hulk, X2: X-Men United). Of course, now that Max and Molly are getting older, we have to be more careful about what we go to see. I remember once when I was a kid watching Saturday Night Fever from the backseat of the car when I was supposed to be asleep!

Here in Durham, the Starlite is our local drive-in. We used to frequent it often but in August 2004 the screen burned to the ground and owner had no insurance to cover the loss. Fortunately, the community chipped in and helped to rebuild the screen and the Starlite
recently re-opened. We haven't been back since it re-opened, but we hope to get there soon. One unique thing about the Starlite is that it may be the only drive-in in America that has a gun shop in the concession stand! (Note, the gun shop is only open during the day when the screen is dark).

If you're feeling a bit nostalgic or just need a diversion to occupy the kids, find out if there's an operating drive-in near you and whatever you do, DO NOT MISS THE DANCING HOT DOG!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Everybody Loves a Parade

Ever since Max was born, we have been threatening to take him to a parade but for one reason or another, we've never made it. Finally, for his FOURTH Christmas, we managed to make it out to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Homegrown Christmas Parade. I have to admit it's one of the more eclectic Christmas parades I've ever been too. But Max and Molly both enjoyed it and that's all that matters! I've posted a few pictures from our outing to Chapel Hill on my flickr page.

Home Sweet Home

Thursday night we were driving in the car to dinner and Max says to me, "Daddy, I want to live at Chick-fil-a." Now I know the first Chick-Fil-A restaurant was called the Dwarf House and it was in Hapeville (pronounced Happy-ville?), but I was a bit taken aback. Hadn't we provided a good home for him and his sister?

Of course, then I got thinking about it. They do have all the chicken nuggets you could ever eat, an indoor playground, and the best fast-food milkshakes I've ever tasted. If only they offered free Wi-Fi access I might be interested in moving in with him!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Inside the Pro Peleton

Do you remember David Zabriskie, the Utahan who beat Lance Armstrong in Stage 1 of the 2005 Tour de France by 2 seconds en route to setting a record for the fastest time trial (54.358 km/h) in the history of Le Tour. DZ wore the maillot jaune until the team time trial (stage 4) when he lost the yellow jersey to Lance Armstrong because of a mysterious crash is the last 2km of the stage.

While surfing around today, I stumbled across Zabriskie's personal website where he was keeping a diary during last year's racing season. While riding along in the Pro Peleton, he took the opportunity to conduct a series of one question interviews with some of cycling's biggest stars -- revealing such insight as:

Dave Zabriskie: Do you like Star Wars?
Alessandro Pettachi: Star Wars?
Dave Zabriskie: The movies.
Alessandro Pettachi: Yes.
Dave Zabriskie: Thank you.

and then there's...

Dave Zabriskie: Thor what does it feel like to have the coolest name in the peleton?
Thor Hushvod: I didn’t know it was a cool name.
Dave Zabriskie: Trust me it is.
Thor Hushvod: O.k. then. It feels pretty cool then.
Dave Zabriskie: Thanks for the interview.

So if you could ask a member of the Pro Peleton one question, what would it be?

My Pick of the Podcasts

A few months ago I decided to take the plunge and get into podcasting. For those that aren't familiar with podcasting -- which takes its name from iPod Broadcasting, it's basically a way to routinely download audio programming that you can listen to you on your computer or your portable MP3 player (such as an iPod). You can either download each file individually or you can use an RSS or Podcast client to automatically download new files when they become available and have it automically synchronize with your audio player.

Sounds great, eh? It is...with one caveat...because anybody in the world can Podcast, there are thousands upon thousands of programs already being podcasted on the internet. The problem is that these programs rate anywhere from Superb to Supremely Poor. Some have tremendous production values whereas others are simply a guy talking into the built-in microphone in his laptop.

The challenge becomes finding podcasts that are worth your time to download and listen to. You can always go with reputable content sources like NPR and KUT (my favorite radio station in Austin) who both podcast excerpts from their shows. You can also try to navigate your way through a podcast community or directory. But the true beauty of podcasting is being hep to the unique quality content out there that can be heard nowhere else but through a podcast.

So in my quest to separate the podcast wheat from the chaff, here's a quick rundown of my five favorite podcasts I've found on the web so far:

  • Coverville - this show, expertly produced in the hosts basement after his kids go to be, features cover versions of songs you may already know re-done by popular and not-so-popular artists.
  • The Naked Podshow - some of the best new and unsigned music from (mostly) British artists. The avant-garde of the new British Invasion!
  • Radio Clash - a weekly mashup podcast from London bringing together a torrent of creativity in the mashup and remix world that will probably never see the light of day through normal commercial channels.
  • All Songs Considered - NPR's weekly, web-only music show which allows the exploration of music in longer and more eclectic segments than are typically featured in their normal NPR daily programming.
  • US Soccer Podcast - Soccer, my favorite sport, is one of the worst covered sports in the US by the mainstream media so this podcast fills a huge void for soccer news about the US National teams and professional soccer in the United States.
So what podcasts are you listening to?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Here Come the ABCs

My friend Jonathan and I have a tradition each year where we rate the top albums of the year. As I set out to figure out which album was my favorite for 2005, I started going through some of the CDs that I purchased this year.

I was scratching my head over all the great new albums I bought this year like Picaresque (The Decemberists), Employment (The Kaiser Chiefs), The Girl Who Couldn't Fly (Kate Rusby), Twin Cinema (The New Pornographers), Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (The Eels) etc. I ended up with a list of about 15 albums that were legitimate contenders for the title.

Then I remembered the album that I've actually listened to more than any other album this year...Here Come the ABCs, the new children's album by They Might Be Giants! Both of my kids were totally into the DVD that accompanied this album and we must have watched it an average of twice a day for the last 6 months.

Not only is it totally cool that our kids are into a band that Liz and I used to go see when we were in college, but this album is actually quite good. While the songs are about the alphabet, not a one of them would be out of place on any of your typical TMBG albums. In fact, I bet they even do some of the songs at their concerts.

Some of the songs are whimsical (Pictures of Pandas Painting -- can you guess what letter that one's about?), philosophical (Who Put the Alphabet in Alphabetical Order?), and downright clever (I C U -- an entire song whose lyrics are a coherent story made up of only single letter words).

I'm sure ultimately that I will conclude that one of the "adult" albums was truly the best album of 2005, but for the time being, They Might Be Giants is getting my vote for their generation spanning album.

What's your favorite album of 2005?